Demand for injection needles in Manitoba has soared in past 3 years, health region data shows

The demand for needles from people injecting drugs has tripled in Winnipeg since early 2015, according to a government document.

Spike in demand shows province isn't doing enough to fight methamphetamine crisis, Opposition says

The province distributed more than two million sterile needles in the 2017-18 fiscal year, a provincial memo says. That's up from just over a million in 2015-16. (Bert Savard/Radio-Canada)

The demand in Winnipeg for needles from people injecting drugs last year jumped by more than 70 per cent from two years before, according to a government document — and elsewhere in the province, the increase was even more pronounced.

The advisory note for the province's health minister, obtained by the Opposition NDP, records tens of thousands more needles being distributed in the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority in 2017-18 compared to 2015-16, and a nearly sevenfold increase in demand at the province's four other regional health authorities during the same period.

Altogether, the province has distributed more than two million sterile injection supplies in 2017-18, the memo says.

The documents, tabled Wednesday during question period, were obtained by the New Democrats through a freedom of information request. 

"That's happening under this government's watch and it just goes to show they're not doing enough to combat the meth crisis," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said afterwards.

1.68M needles in a year in Winnipeg

At the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, 1.68 million injection supplies were distributed during the last fiscal year — an increase from 1.37 million in 2016-17 and 981,000 in 2015-16.

The WRHA has already distributed more than 1.2 million needles in 2018-19 — approaching the 2016-17 total in just the first seven months of this fiscal year, according to figures the health authority provided to CBC News. 

The province's four other health authorities distributed 322,000 needles and syringes last year, which is a jump from 145,000 of those instruments in 2016-17 and only 49,000 a year earlier. 

The need is pronounced at Prairie Mountain Health in southwestern Manitoba, where health officials distributed nearly double the amount of needles in 2017-18 (187,054) as they did the year before (94,869).

In the first four months of the current fiscal year, Prairie Mountain — which includes Brandon — had already distributed more than 68,000 needles.

Opposition Leader Wab Kinew says the numbers in the memo obtained by the NDP underscore the need for a supervised injection site in Winnipeg. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Kinew said the documentation underscores the need for a supervised injection site in Winnipeg and a detox centre in Brandon, which his party has pushed for.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the NDP's proposals won't solve this problem by itself.

"We know the Opposition leader wants to use this as the single solution that will significantly move the needle when it comes to methamphetamine, but everything that I'm hearing from experts, both in our communities and across the country, is that there are no simple overnight solutions."

Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen says the province is regularly evaluating ideas to solve the dramatic rise in meth use in the province. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Friesen insists no good idea is off the table as the province grapples with the issue of methamphetamine use.

When pressed on the status of his promise to reveal further strategies this fall to address the meth crisis, Friesen said the week is not yet done.

Ideological argument

Earlier in the afternoon, Premier Brian Pallister described the NDP's support for supervised injection sites as an ideological argument for an approach that has not been demonstrated to help people addicted to methamphetamine.

"We've shortened wait times for people who need treatment for meth," he said during question period Wednesday. "That's what the people who are forced to deal with addictions want."

The province has pointed to the newly opened rapid access to addictions medicine, or RAAM, clinics and the addition of treatment beds at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre and the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba as measures that actually help.

The NDP has argued those actions aren't enough, criticizing the decision to open these clinics for only a few hours each week.

The Manitoba Liberals have called on the government to immediately create a meth task force and follow through on recommendations from that task force.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said Wednesday morning that he will speak to a House of Commons committee next week about the methamphetamine crisis.

Spike in demand shows province isn't doing enough to fight methamphetamine crisis, Opposition says. 1:43

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter at CBC Manitoba. He previously wrote about rural Manitoba for the Brandon Sun and the Carillon in Steinbach. Story idea? Email ian.froese@cbc.ca.